Media release: Alexander the Great: 2000 Years of Treasures
Exclusive to the Australian Museum from 24 November 2012
Alexander the Great: 2000 years of treasures is the most exciting and prestigious classical culture exhibition ever to be hosted by the Australian Museum and features the largest collection of treasures ever to come to Australia from the world famous State Hermitage in St Petersburg, Russia. This exhibition will be exclusive to Sydney.
No ruler in history appeals to the imagination as much as Alexander the Great. No other king has been so often cited and depicted as an example of mighty achievement, even though he died at the tender age of 32 in 323 BCE.
He owes his epithet ‘The Great’ to the enormous territory that he conquered, all within the space of just 11 years, the largest empire in history – from Greece in the west to the river Indus in the east.
The exhibition includes over 400 objects from classical antiquity through to the modern age from both Western and Non-Western origins, spanning a period of almost 2500 years.
Among the works that will be shown are signature pieces that people travel from all over the world to the State Hermitage to see, such as the famous Gonzaga cameo and the polished black basalt statue of Cleopatra VII. Another highlight of the exhibition is the figure of Heracles fighting the lion from the 2nd century AD.
Alexander the Great: 2000 years of treasures is an exhibition that will entrance the general public with its diversity of treasures and the entertaining and engaging way in which it places one of history’s most legendary figures into context: the world he took over when he became king, his campaigns as far east as the Indus River in India, the man himself and his legacy. It incorporates the great cultural and artistic changes that followed his conquests.
The exhibition starts with examples of how the Alexander the Great ‘myth’ has been represented in art and culture over the centuries, with engravings from the 17th century, to tapestries and decorative arts produced in the 18th & 19th centuries, showing his historic deeds and conquests.
This is followed by artefacts that tell the story behind the man; life in his native Macedonia, his parents and teachers, his heroes Achilles and Heracles, and his ideals.
The exhibition then traces Alexander’s journey, his great expedition to the East: an unparalled campaign of conquest. Objects from Egypt and Persia, from the nomads and the Babylonians, attest to the rich cultures that he encountered on his travels.
Alexander’s legacy is then examined with 2nd and 3rd century reliefs from the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra, demonstrating the endurance of Greek traditions outside Greece, as do the papyruses bearing texts in Greek, which were still being produced in the 8th century. Even into the 15th and 16 centuries, Alexander was a prominent character in Persian literature.
Thanks to Alexander, the Greek sphere of influence was vast and is still seen today: it extends from Asia to India, from Egypt to Mongolia.
Alexander’s name and fame has endured down to the present day. He is a phenomenon and immortal, thanks to the retelling of his story through generations and across cultures. He remains a topical figure and as recently as 2004 Oliver Stone introduced his story to a whole new generation with a major feature film starring Colin Farrell.
Catherine the Great, C18th Empress of Russia and founder of the State Hermitage was fascinated by Alexander and like many other European rulers of the time, wore images of him. This fascination led to a collection at the State Hermitage that is unsurpassed in terms of in its breath and the extent of its treasures.
“Massive resources are involved in bringing this exhibition from St Petersburg to Sydney,” says Frank Howarth, Director of the Australian Museum. “The artefacts will come in three shipments, each taking over three days to reach Sydney by air, with much of the road route overseen by police escort. There will be a total of 29 curators and conservators accompanying the exhibition to and from Australia – quite apart from our own team working on the project at the Australian Museum.”
Professor Dr Mikhail B. Piotrovskjy, Director, State Hermitage Museum said “There are few heroes in the history of the world that have not been cast down in recent years. Alexander the Great has, so far, escaped such a fate and even Hollywood films tell his story with the admiration and reverence of authors of antiquity. Alexander’s conquests gave birth in East and West to an incredible synthesis of cultures and even of belief systems. This synthesis – Hellenistic culture – was marvelous in itself, but it was moreover that which laid the basis for the world’s further development, a development which led to Christian culture in its broadest sense and even to Islamic culture.”
“‘The Age of Alexander’ was a century of political, philosophical and artistic creativity. Magnificent states, new towns and cities, brilliant thinkers, amazing artists. The Hermitage is proud of its collection of works with connections to Alexander. With this exhibition, the Hermitage demonstrates the potential of a museum that is not just large, not just universal, but encyclopaedic.”
Sydney’s Assoc. Prof. Kenneth Sheedy, ancient historian and Director of the Australian Centre for Ancient Numismatic Studies at Macquarie University, knows the collection in St Petersburg well and is excited about what will be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for many Australians:
“The Alexander exhibition brings to Sydney some of the finest known treasures from the court and cities of Alexander the Great and his Successors. Alexander's remarkable empire, stretching from the Mediterranean across to India, was carved out in battles and campaigns waged over a few short years. It barely outlasted his death at the age of 32, but its legacy is still with us today. The Hermitage holds one of the finest antiquities collections in the world and this exhibition has been brilliantly curated by Dr Anna Trofimova, the museum’s Head of the Department of Classical Antiquities.”
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